Late Game Heroics Push Leathernecks to First OVC Victory


MACOMB, IL – The Western Illinois baseball team took their home opener 4-3 over the visiting Skyhawks of UT Martin. The 4-3 victory marks the fifth victory of the season for Western Illinois, and their first Ohio Valley Conference victory.

Jason Buhl set the tone early for the Leathernecks. Three strikeouts in the first four batters helped the Leathernecks defense strike out the side in the first inning. The Leatherneck bats stayed patient at the plate as Chris Hege and Cesar Franco drew walks in the first inning. Buhl dominated the second inning with a scoreless frame, and WIU’s offense helped out in the bottom half. Adam Juran led off the inning, pulling the ball through the left side of the infield, giving WIU a leadoff runner for the second time in two innings. Juran advanced to second on a wild pitch, and J.R. Heavilin made the Skyhawk pitching staff pay. Heavilin sliced a ball the opposite way, which brought Heavilin around to score and give Western Illinois a 1-0 lead.

Both defenses settled down in the third, retiring each other with no runs. UT Martin found its way into the run column in the fourth inning. A one-out home run tied the game, and then a two-run shot later in the inning put the Skyhawks in front 3-1.

The Leathernecks did not back down from the come-from-behind pressure. In the sixth inning, Liam Bushey worked a two-out walk. He advanced all the way around to third as Franco and Kyree Alexander followed with their own walk. Bushey traveled the final 90 feet on a wild pitch as the Leathernecks trimmed the deficit in half, 3-2.

Buhl came out in the seventh inning and shut down the Skyhawks offense with a strikeout and a pair of flyouts. Western Illinois offense picked up their pitcher in the bottom half. Trevor Leon started the rally with a one-out walk. Hege singled as Leon advanced to third. Hege put himself in scoring position by advancing on a wild pitch, and Liam Bushey stepped up into the box with two out. Down to just one strike, Bushey lined a ball into the right-center gap, scoring both Leon and Hege as WIU took a 4-3 lead.

Western Illinois would head to their closer for the final two innings. Caden Kratz came in with four saves on the season and walked out with his fifth. A 1-2-3 inning in the top of the eighth gained all the momentum for Kratz as he headed to the ninth with a one-run lead. A strikeout started at the top of the ninth before Kratz was in trouble. A hit by pitch and a walk put the tying and go-ahead run on the bases. The runners did not pose a threat as Kratz got a strike out and a ground out to finish the 4-3 Leatherneck win.

Jason Buhl did everything right on the mound for Western Illinois. The junior battled for 7.0 innings, having seven strikeouts well, only walking one batter. Adam Juran got it done at the plate, going 2-3 with a double and a run scored. Liam Bushey went 1-3 with two RBIs that proved to be game-winning.

Western Illinois and UT Martin will continue their three-game series tomorrow morning. The first pitch is scheduled for 11:00 a.m.

Copy Provided By Western Athletic Communications

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